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Nagoya venture taps researcher’s reagent to make quick work of synthesizing proteins

Chunichi Shimbun

A Nagoya-based venture has started selling a reagent that allows researchers to significantly reduce the time needed to synthesize proteins, supporting the development of medicines including one that can control the growth of cancer cells.

The reagent sold by NUProtein Co., which originated from Nagoya University, was developed by a 28-year-old female postgraduate student who came up with her own way of synthesizing proteins and ended up commercializing the process after drawing attention from universities and research institutions.

In research, proteins are used to check allergic reactions and the effects of medicines for various illnesses.

They are normally created in the human body, but proteins that are compatible for research need to be prepared separately by synthesizing proteins from Escherichia coli and other bacteria — a process that usually takes around two weeks.

The protein synthesis technology from NUProtein works by extracting the protein synthesis function of wheat germ and adding DNA to it.

With this, researchers can skip the cloning process that is required when using E. coli, reducing the total protein synthesis process to about one day.

The company’s technology also allows users to produce enzyme and membrane proteins, which were previously impossible to do because the E. coli would die.

The technology is expected to contribute to the development of new medicine that can stop cells from developing into cancer or control the excessive light sensitivity of cells.

The technology was developed by Mika Nomoto, a doctoral student at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of Science, who is also working as chief technology officer of the company.

She came up with the idea of producing the protein in a short amount of time in 2012, when she faced the need to prepare a large amount of protein to analyze the immune system of plants for research during her master’s program.

“I just devised it so that I could do my research more effectively,” Nomoto said.

However, her work became well known after her paper was published and she received requests from 58 universities and research facilities in and outside Japan to synthesize proteins.

She applied for a patent for her protein synthesis technology in 2015. After the synthesis function extracted from wheat germ was set to be sold as a reagent, she established a company last August.

NUProtein received ¥19 million in financing from state-sponsored Japan Finance Corp. to purchase a centrifugal separator and other equipment and began selling the reagent this month.

The production method for NUProtein’s reagent is simple, so the company was able to sell the product at ¥55,000, about half the price of its competitors in a market worth ¥180 billion.

“In addition to drug manufacturers, this technology can accelerate the research and development in a wide variety of fields, including agrochemical and food-related companies,” said NUProtein CEO Masataka Minami, who used to work as a specially appointed associate professor at Nagoya University.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published March 3.